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Prosecutor clears deputy in Wisconsin eighth-grader's death

Posted at 1:33 PM, Jan 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-20 14:35:00-05

 MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A northern Wisconsin sheriff's deputy was justified when he shot and killed a 14-year-old boy on a tribal reservation last year, a prosecutor said Friday.

Ashland County District Attorney Michael Nieskes cleared Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich of any criminal liability in eighth-grader Jason Pero's death. He wrote a letter to the deputy, the state Department of Justice and Sheriff Michael Brenann saying the actions were appropriate.

Mrdjenovich shot Pero twice outside the boy's home in Odanah on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa's reservation on Nov. 8. Authorities said Mrdjenovich was responding to a call of someone with a knife.

The DOJ released a synopsis of its investigation Friday that suggests Pero was trying to force police to kill him. According to the synopsis, Pero called police to report someone walking around outside his house with a knife. Nieskes said in his letter that Pero's description of the man matched himself.

Mrdjendovich responded and encountered Pero in the street with a butcher knife. The boy ignored the deputy's commands to drop the knife and advanced toward him, according to the synopsis. Mrdjenovich retreated to the rear driver's side bumper of his squad car, still telling Pero to drop the knife. Pero continued to advance toward him, holding the knife in an upright position.

Pero was about eight to 10 feet away when he lunged toward the deputy, who fired one round from his handgun. Pero lunged at the deputy again, prompting him to fire a second shot.

Both rounds hit Pero in the chest. After the second shot hit him he looked at Mrdjenovich and said "I just wanted to die," the synopsis said.

Investigators recovered a knife from the scene near Pero that was consistent with knives found in his house, Nieskes noted in his letter. An autopsy revealed Pero had fentanyl, an opioid pain medication, in his system but the boy had no prescription for the drug, the district attorney added. The boy also had what appeared to be recent, self-inflicted cuts on his forearms.

The shooting left Pero's family enraged. Tribal members questioned why Mrdjenovich had to shoot him. Sandra Gokee, an Ojibwe language instructor at an Ashland elementary school, was suspended after she posted on her Facebook page that police murdered Pero.

Bad River tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. didn't immediately reply to a message left on his Facebook page Friday evening.

Brennan, the sheriff, issued a news release late Friday afternoon calling Pero's death tragic.

"The Sheriff's Office is ... deeply aware of the ways in which this incident has impacted the Bad River community and its relationship with law enforcement," Brennan said. "We are dedicated to rebuilding and restoring trust and a working relationship with the community at all levels through continued community policing, officer education and training, and proactive involvement with all citizens of Ashland County."

He added that Mrdjenovich will remain employed with the sheriff's department and will continue to be assigned to limited administrative duties until all internal reviews are finished.